Small Tragic Opera of Images and Bodies in the Museum
€ 14 / € 10
Standing performance (no seats)
Combi-ticket The Absent Museum + performance € 20
Somewhere in a city, traumatized and exhausted by the assassination of a young man by the police, a museum hosts an exhibition of works by an artist who uses archival images of police violence. Parts of the museum’s staff and the local artistic community are outraged by what they see as an insensitive artistic proposition, a fetishization of violence and alienation. The artist is challenged to justify his work but fails to respond the questions, or appease the anxiety and anger. Tensions grow. Apologies are written. The museum becomes a place for intense discussions. Voices are raised. Spirits and ghosts are roused. The world listens. Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s new piece features an operatic chorus and raises timely questions about identity, representation, art and its institutions. Who may speak for whom? To whom do these images belong? How can we avoid building walls between us?
Diana Dobrescu, Clara-Louise Di girolamo, Thibaut Vanhacter
Felix Bahret, Lynn Bruyère, Thevani Ramasawmy
Antoine Van Den Berg
Sound recorded & mixed at
DADA studios (Brussels)
Installation supported by
Commissioned & produced by
In the framework of the exhibition
The Absent Museum (20.4 – 13.8.2017)
Small Tragic Opera of Images and Bodies in the Museum
Somewhere in a city traumatized and exhausted by the assassination of a young black man by the police. A museum hosts an exhibition by an artist whose work has repeatedly made use of archival images of police violence and black bodies. Parts of the museum staff and the local artistic community are outraged by what they consider to be an inappropriate and insensitive artistic proposition, a fetishization of violence and alienation. The artist is challenged to justify her body of works but fails to answer the questions, appease the anxiety, the anger. Tension grows. These images are reclaimed. Apologies get written. Walls are built. Was it the good place, the good time for this exhibition? Who can talk for whom? Whom do these images belong to? How could we not build walls? Are there a space and a time for the exhibition of negative images? The museum becomes a place for intense discussions, it is alive, voices are raised, spirits and ghosts are somewhere near. The world listens.
The narrator speaks about the city where the story takes place, its recent tragic events and the mobilization that they have triggered. A young black man has been killed by the police, his dead body remaining uncovered and exposed to anyone’s sight for a long, long time. Riots, pain, anxiety, anger, activism and protests followed, for months and months. History repeats itself, seemingly endlessly, but some things change: images get to move faster, mobilization gets to a higher level, voices can be heard louder and further.
ACT 1 – BEFORE THE EXHIBITION
Parts of the museum staff express their concerns and unease at the images they have to install. They talk together about the position they’re in: they care for works, install them, invigilate them, but apparently, through process of bringing the show to a public, their voices will not be heard.
The curator takes a walk outside the museum in order to think about the exhibition. She does not respond the museum staff’s questions or discomfort (maybe she doesn’t notice), but rather addresses some invisible press person or audience – or even herself – about the exhibition and the publication that will accompany it.
The critic eloquently sings about the artist’s work, about the complexities of desire, fantasy and love, about exhibiting and living with images that constitute a mutual and shared history. By comparison with the curator’s argument, which is impersonal and distanced, abstract even, the critic’s song is personal, emotional and lyrical.
ACT 2 – EXHIBITION OPENING
Parts of the visitors react to the works on display. They feel uncomfortable in their presence, they do not understand why this is shown here, in this city, and at this particular moment. They discuss their exhaustion at seeing images of police violence, bodies exposed and fetishized. They read parts of the curator’s argument with disbelief. They have so many questions.
The activist artist voices her deep disgust and rejection of the exhibition. By comparison with the community’s concerns and the way they are voiced – more with an incredulous, interrogative tone – the activist artist’s position is more that of an unambiguous rejection of what is being shown. She convinces the community to stiffen their positions and reclaim answers to their questions, by attending the artist’s talk and confronting her to the discrepancies of her work in the museum.
ACT 3 – ARTIST TALK
The artist talks about her work in relation with consumption, with the circulation of images and images of bodies, with art history. The artist also thinks about all the things she doesn’t want to talk about, or sing out loud: her childhood, sexuality, beliefs, desires. Why doesn’t the artist want to share any of this, why does the artist remain so abstract? Doesn’t the artist know that, to a certain extent, the personal is the political? Or does she refuse to justify the work from an emotional point of view?
Community and activist artist
Questions!!! Questions!!! Questions!!! The community and the activist artist urge the artist to talk further about the provenance of these images, the context of this exhibition, its desired audience. The artist fails to answer, repeatedly.
ACT 4 – WALLS
The activist artist wants the show taken down. She thinks this exhibition should have never taken place. She is vocal and passionate, angry and implacable.
The museum staff inform the museum of their decision to stand in solidarity with the community and the activist artist. They will not perform their duties in relation with the exhibition of the artist’s works.
The curator apologizes for failing to acknowledge the museum staff’s concerns during the installation period and for being unable to answer the community’s questions during the talk. She announces that the exhibition will not be taken down, but that walls will be built in order to partially conceal the works that caused the outrage.
The artist apologizes for being unable to provide answers and to appease the anger and anxiety her work has caused. She sings that she stands in solidarity with the communities she has offended, that her belief is that art can bring certain difficult memories, topics, images, at the centre of intense and necessary conversations and that her intention was to do so with these works. She sings about the walls her work has (somehow) created between herself and the community it has hurt. She sings about the walls that will be built to prevent her works being overtly exposed to any visitor’s sight. The walls that will be built to prevent further pain. The soothing walls. The painful walls.
Lili Reynaud-Dewar (1975) writes, dances, teaches, films, talks (too much) and produces monumental, functional and discursive objects. She works alone or in a group, starting from autobiographical material or material borrowed from transgressive figures of 20th century cultural production such as Josephine Baker, Guillaume Dustan, Bjarne Melgaard and Cosey Fanni Tutti. She is interested in the history of racial and sexual emancipation, the figure of the artist in his or her social and political context, the circulation of cultural practices, and ethical questions found in artistic production. Her work has been the subject of monographic exhibitions in the Kunsthalle in Basel (2010), the Magasin in Grenoble (2012), the New Museum in New York (2014), the Audain Gallery in Vancouver (2015), the Kunstverein in Hamburg (2016) and the Museion in Bolzano (2017). She has also exhibited work at the Fondation Generali (Vienna), Witte de With (Rotterdam) and the Studio Museum (New York). She was among the artists selected for the 11th Gwangju Biennale in 2016 (curated by Maria Lind), the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015 (curated by Okwui Enwezor) and the 5th Berlin Biennale in 2008 (curated by Adam Szymczyk and Elena Filipovic). In 2009, she co-founded the feminist review Pétunia with Dorothée Dupuis and Valérie Chartrain. Her writings about art have appeared in the anthology My Epidemic (Texts about My Work and the Work of Other Artists) published by Thomas Boutoux at Paraguay Press (2015). She teaches at the Geneva School of Art and Design.
Nicolas Murer was born in Champagnole (Jura, France) and now lives in Grenoble. He is a musician with several identities, going in several directions and not settling on anything. He runs a label called Stochastic Releases. He has several synthesizers and drum machines. He regularly collaborates with Lili Reynaud-Dewar and has made tracks for several of her pieces (Live Through That!? series in 2014, Teeth, Gums, Machines, Future, Society in 2016), and he also composed the music for a piece by her included in the international exhibition All The World’s Futures at the Venice Biennale in 2015.Back to top